Unity government inevitable as Israel’s political drama enters its potentially final chapter

March 27, 2020 by Benjamin Brown - TPS
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Israel’s electoral odyssey took the most dramatic of turns on Thursday, possibly spelling the final chapter of what seemed like a never-ending story after an unprecedented three elections.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, at the President Residence in Jerusalem on Sept. 23, 2019. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.

At lunchtime on Thursday, it seemed fairly certain that Yair Lapid’s right-hand man Meir Cohen would be elected as the next Knesset Speaker after a dramatic resignation by Likud politician Yuli Edelstein sparked by an intense rift with Israel’s High Court.

The Blue and White party, led by former IDF Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz, was aware that electing Cohen as Speaker would see them torpedo any chance of forming a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party – the threats by Likud had been loud and clear all day long.

In a last-gasp effort to keep the hope of a unity government – the option favoured by most Israelis, according to the latest polls – alive, Gantz put himself forward as Knesset Speaker.

As rumours of such a move emerged, Lapid threatened to split the Blue and White party, pulling his centrist Yesh Atid party out of the alliance. It was not enough to perturb Gantz, who was elected as Knesset speaker and entered into final negotiations with the Likud over a unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, flanked by Yamina, Shas, United Torah Judaism and, possibly, Labor and the third part of the Blue and White alliance, the centre-right Telem.

Such a government now seems inevitable with Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party set to receive mandates including the Foreign Ministry, Defence Ministry, and Justice Ministry, with the Likud’s right-wing bloc expected to control the Ministry of Finance, the Interior Ministry and the Knesset Speaker as soon as Gantz stands down after a transition period.

With Netanyahu to remain as Prime Minister for the coming 18 months, Gantz will likely serve as Foreign Minister before assuming the role he had hoped to win in three elections. It currently remains unclear what Netanyahu’s role in the government will be come September 2021. One thing, however, is crystal clear: Bibi’s a fighter.

Having been indicted and had the entire world of political analysts predict the end to his career as Prime Minister in September 2019, Netanyahu has shown once again why he is a political heavyweight who simply will not be unseated.

After running three elections together, Gantz’s move away from Lapid and into Bibi’s arms will surely be seen as a betrayal by the Lapid faithful – to the Israeli public, however, it is likely mainly one thing: The end to what seemed like an endless cycle of elections.

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